Cracked Ribs

How To Tell If You Have Cracked Ribs

Do you think you may be suffering from cracked ribs? If so, read on for some important information.

Cracked ribs are most commonly caused by hard hits to the torso – often from falling or being hit during contact sports. In certain individuals, a fracture can occur without any such trauma.  For people who have vitamin or mineral deficiencies – especially those with osteoporosis - simply coughing can cause a crack or break.

Children are less susceptible to rib fractures; their bones are more pliable than those of adults and will withstand much more force without breaking. That’s not to say that this type of injury can’t occur in a juvenile, but it’s far less likely.

The main symptom of any kind of rib fracture is pain – especially when coughing, hiccupping, or sneezing. The pain is usually stronger when you lay or otherwise put pressure on the injured side. The area will be very tender to the touch and there will likely be swelling and/or bruising around the wounded ribs.

If you have merely fractured your ribs without displacing or snapping them, then it is not mandatory that you seek medical attention. The reason for this is that there’s really not much that a doctor can physically do to repair cracked ribs. Time is the biggest factor when it comes to healing from this type of injury. The bone will knit back together after awhile – usually within four to eight weeks – and there are steps you can take in the meantime to expedite healing and minimize pain.

If you were to see a physician for cracked ribs, an x-ray would probably be taken to determine the extent of the damage (keep in mind that x-ray cannot always detect cracks, especially during the first several hours after the injury occurs).  If you were to be diagnosed with a rib fracture, the treatment plan would most likely be a regimen of decreased activity and pain management. Sometimes, the ribs are taped or banded to restrict movement – although many doctors have discontinued this method. This is because some believe that the binding effects of tape and/or bands might prevent the patient from taking deep breaths, which can be harmful to the lungs.

If you don’t breathe deeply enough - or if you aren’t coughing on a regular basis to expel phlegm, you are highly vulnerable to lung afflictions such as pneumonia. Many people who have suffered cracked ribs swear by taping or banding. If you do opt for this technique, just remember to be mindful of your lungs and make a conscious effort to breathe deeply from time to time and to cough occasionally to clear out any mucus buildup.

The importance of pain management has more to do with the lungs than the ribs themselves for the same reasons mentioned above. If pain is kept at bay, a person will feel more comfortable taking deep breaths and coughing. Rib injuries themselves are usually not cause for great concern. However, the secondary damage that could occur in the lungs is a very real and important consideration. Again, deep breathing and regular expulsion of lung contents is key as a part of the healing process.

A doctor would probably prescribe or recommend ibuprofen or other analgesic. Keep in mind, though, that some recent studies have indicated that ibuprofen use can adversely affect bone growth. Some doctors will still prescribe it for broken bones, while others will advise you to watch your ibuprofen intake based on the new studies. Just to be safe, you may want to switch from ibuprofen to another anti-inflammatory pain reliever after several days. Sometimes, stronger painkillers will be prescribed. This will likely depend on your pain level, as well as on any allergies or drug interaction issues you might have. There are many pain reducers and anti-inflammatory drugs that you don’t need a prescription for if you have opted not to see a doctor.

Alternating heat and cold at the injury site is something you can do to help reduce inflammation and help with pain, too. Try alternating hot and cold compresses for ten minutes each to relieve swelling and discomfort. It’s also best to avoid strenuous activity – especially that which would put more pressure on your core. If you have cracked ribs, it probably won’t be too difficult to refrain from a lot of physical activity. In the initial period of healing, pain often prevents a lot of movement.

If you have cracked ribs, the most important thing is to pay attention to your body. Remember to rest often and to keep pain under control so that it won’t hurt too much to take those big, healthy breaths. If you suspect that the damage is worse than just a crack, or if you experience nausea or difficulty breathing, be sure to consult a physician.